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Michigan State University interim president John Engler to resign after comments

Embattled Michigan State University interim president John Engler will resign from his position, a member of the board of trustees told The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon.

Joel Ferguson told The Associated Press that board members expected to receive a letter Wednesday from Engler spelling out the reasons he would step down and the effective date of his resignation.

“Yes, John is going to resign,” he said.

The school’s board of trustees scheduled a previously unplanned meeting for Thursday to discuss a “personnel action” after Engler said he thought some survivors of Nassar’s abuse were “enjoying” the “spotlight” in an interview with The Detroit News.

“There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight,” Engler said, according to The Detroit News. “In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”

Engler’s term as the temporary leader of the university, which was a source of controversy from the outset, will last slightly less than a year during what Michigan State leaders have described as the most trying, tumultuous stretch in university history in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

The trustees voted on Jan. 31, 2018, to install Engler as the school’s new leader to replace former president Lou Anna Simon, who was also pressured to resign because of how her administration handled the Nassar scandal.

The unanimous decision to choose Engler, a former governor of Michigan, was made despite calls from the student body and faculty to choose someone with academic experience rather than a political insider. The school’s faculty board issued a formal vote of “no confidence” in the board of trustees two weeks later.

Engler said throughout his 11-plus months in charge that he believed his job was to help the university reform and move forward so that a new permanent president could step in with fewer problems to resolve.

The university agreed to an historically high $500 million settlement with more than 300 claimants who sued Michigan State and others in civil court for failing to stop Nassar’s abuse earlier in the two decade span that he spent on campus assaulting his patients.

Engler’s focus on the dollar figures in that settlement rather than on helping survivors and the community heal in other ways sparked outrage among assault survivors, advocates and others several different times during the past year.

Engler recently closed a $10 million assistance fund that was originally set up to help Nassar’s survivors pay for mental healthcare. He claimed the fund, which had more than $8 million of unused money remaining when it was closed, was only intended to be “a bridge” to provide help before payments from the $500 million settlement began.

Last week, in an interview with the Detroit News editorial board addressing that fund, Engler said he felt some of Nassar’s survivors were clinging to attention.

Those comments angered survivors and many others, and they proved to be the final straw for a board that has grown weary of a string of insensitive comments and actions by the university’s top leader.

In April, a month before the civil suits were settled, 19-year-old gymnast Kaylee Lorincz accused Engler of telling her to name “a number” that would satisfy survivors who were suing the university during a private meeting. The meeting, which Lorincz and her mother requested to speak about how they could help the university move forward, was not a formal negotiation and Lorincz’s attorneys were not present.

At the same meeting, Engler issued an apology for the school’s choice to publicly share another woman’s medical history in response to a lawsuit she filed about how the school handled a sexual assault complaint not related to Nassar.

Lorincz also said Engler told her that Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of wrongdoing and a consistent advocate for change at Michigan State and elsewhere, had provided a number figure that would be acceptable for a settlement. Denhollander adamantly refuted that claim.

Engler also accused Denhollander of receiving financial kickbacks from civil attorneys for her outspoken stance against the university in an email exchange he had with other high-ranking university employees. Engler later apologized for those emails.

Michigan State trustees Brian Mosallam and Dianne Byrum first called for Engler’s termination in June after details of that email exchange were reported by local news outlets. No other members of the eight-person board supported a motion to get rid of Engler at that time. At least two other trustees — both of whom joined the board this January — made clear this Wednesday their intentions to vote to remove Engler from his seat if he had not resigned.

A letter signed by 23 university deans on Wednesday also said they no longer supported Engler’s leadership.

Mosallam said Wednesday on Twitter that Engler’s “reign of terror was over.” New trustee Brianna Scott said on Facebook that dysfunction in any organization starts with its leader and “it speaks volumes. I WILL always vote for what’s right! Tomorrow I’m taking a stand!”

Survivors and other community members said they were pleased to see the board take action, but many wondered why they waited so long. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over one of Nassar’s two sentencing hearings a year ago, said it was clear that Engler did not understand victims of abuse and has not fulfilled the promises he made when he took the job.

“There’s no one in this community who wants Michigan State to fail,” Aquilina said. “We want it to be strengthened. This was a real opportunity to be a model university, and he failed.”

The board plans to continue its search for a permanent replacement president, but it does not expect to name someone in that position immediately. A new interim leader will take over as the university president until then.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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